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  1. Noise Contrastive Estimation (NCE) is a popular approach for learning probability density functions parameterized up to a constant of proportionality. The main idea is to design a classification problem for distinguishing training data from samples from an easy-to-sample noise distribution q, in a manner that avoids having to calculate a partition function. It is well-known that the choice of q can severely impact the computational and statistical efficiency of NCE. In practice, a common choice for q is a Gaussian which matches the mean and covariance of the data. In this paper, we show that such a choice can result in an exponentially bad (in the ambient dimension) conditioning of the Hessian of the loss, even for very simple data distributions. As a consequence, both the statistical and algorithmic complexity for such a choice of q will be problematic in practice, suggesting that more complex and tailored noise distributions are essential to the success of NCE. 
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  2. A popular assumption for out-of-distribution generalization is that the training data comprises subdatasets, each drawn from a distinct distribution; the goal is then to “interpolate” these distributions and “extrapolate” beyond them—this objective is broadly known as domain generalization. A common belief is that ERM can interpolate but not extrapolate and that the latter task is considerably more difficult, but these claims are vague and lack formal justification. In this work, we recast generalization over sub-groups as an online game between a player minimizing risk and an adversary presenting new test distributions. Under an existing notion of inter- and extrapolation based on reweighting of sub-group likelihoods, we rigorously demonstrate that extrapolation is computationally much harder than interpolation, though their statistical complexity is not significantly different. Furthermore, we show that ERM—or a noisy variant—is provably minimax-optimal for both tasks. Our framework presents a new avenue for the formal analysis of domain generalization algorithms which may be of independent interest. 
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  3. We consider Ising models on the hypercube with a general interaction matrix 𝐽, and give a polynomial time sampling algorithm when all but 𝑂(1) eigenvalues of 𝐽 lie in an interval of length one, a situation which occurs in many models of interest. This was previously known for the Glauber dynamics when \emph{all} eigenvalues fit in an interval of length one; however, a single outlier can force the Glauber dynamics to mix torpidly. Our general result implies the first polynomial time sampling algorithms for low-rank Ising models such as Hopfield networks with a fixed number of patterns and Bayesian clustering models with low-dimensional contexts, and greatly improves the polynomial time sampling regime for the antiferromagnetic/ferromagnetic Ising model with inconsistent field on expander graphs. It also improves on previous approximation algorithm results based on the naive mean-field approximation in variational methods and statistical physics. Our approach is based on a new fusion of ideas from the MCMC and variational inference worlds. As part of our algorithm, we define a new nonconvex variational problem which allows us to sample from an exponential reweighting of a distribution by a negative definite quadratic form, and show how to make this procedure provably efficient using stochastic gradient descent. On top of this, we construct a new simulated tempering chain (on an extended state space arising from the Hubbard-Stratonovich transform) which overcomes the obstacle posed by large positive eigenvalues, and combine it with the SGD-based sampler to solve the full problem. 
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  4. The vast majority of work in self-supervised learning have focused on assessing recovered features by a chosen set of downstream tasks. While there are several commonly used benchmark datasets, this lens of feature learning requires assumptions on the downstream tasks which are not inherent to the data distribution itself. In this paper, we present an alternative lens, one of parameter identifiability: assuming data comes from a parametric probabilistic model, we train a self-supervised learning predictor with a suitable parametric form, and ask whether the parameters of the optimal predictor can be used to extract the parameters of the ground truth generative model. Specifically, we focus on latent-variable models capturing sequential structures, namely Hidden Markov Models with both discrete and conditionally Gaussian observations. We focus on masked prediction as the self-supervised learning task and study the optimal masked predictor. We show that parameter identifiability is governed by the task difficulty, which is determined by the choice of data model and the amount of tokens to predict. Technique-wise, we uncover close connections with the uniqueness of tensor rank decompositions, a widely used tool in studying identifiability through the lens of the method of moments. 
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  5. Domain generalization aims at performing well on unseen test environments with data from a limited number of training environments. Despite a proliferation of proposed algorithms for this task, assessing their performance both theoretically and empirically is still very challenging. Distributional matching algorithms such as (Conditional) Domain Adversarial Networks [12, 28] are popular and enjoy empirical success, but they lack formal guarantees. Other approaches such as Invariant Risk Minimization (IRM) require a prohibitively large number of training environments—linear in the dimension of the spurious feature space ds—even on simple data models like the one proposed by Rosenfeld et al. [37]. Under a variant of this model, we show that ERM and IRM can fail to fnd the optimal invariant predictor with o(ds) environments. We then present an iterative feature matching algorithm that is guaranteed with high probability to find the optimal invariant predictor after seeing only O(log ds) environments. Our results provide the first theoretical justification for distribution-matching algorithms widely used in practice under a concrete nontrivial data model. 
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  6. null (Ed.)
    Invariant Causal Prediction (Peters et al., 2016) is a technique for out-of-distribution generalization which assumes that some aspects of the data distribution vary across the training set but that the underlying causal mechanisms remain constant. Recently, Arjovsky et al. (2019) proposed Invariant Risk Minimization (IRM), an objective based on this idea for learning deep, invariant features of data which are a complex function of latent variables; many alternatives have subsequently been suggested. However, formal guarantees for all of these works are severely lacking. In this paper, we present the first analysis of classification under the IRM objective—as well as these recently proposed alternatives—under a fairly natural and general model. In the linear case, we give simple conditions under which the optimal solution succeeds or, more often, fails to recover the optimal invariant predictor. We furthermore present the very first results in the non-linear regime: we demonstrate that IRM can fail catastrophically unless the test data are sufficiently similar to the training distribution—this is precisely the issue that it was intended to solve. Thus, in this setting we find that IRM and its alternatives fundamentally do not improve over standard Empirical Risk Minimization. 
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